Pandemic has opened up fresh possibilities – Modupe Adeyinka-Oni
By Ada Anioji
A renowned educationist, Mrs Modupe Adeyinka-Oni has said that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has opened up fresh possibilities even as it has brought along with it a serious reality check for the Nigerian education sector.
Adeyinka-Oni, who has been engaged with the education sector in the country for 38 years and is the Proprietress of the Standard Bearers School, Lekki, Lagos remarked that, properly conceptualised, there is a sense in which the outbreak of the pandemic may have opened the door for the system to become much better.
‘For the education sector, Covid disrupted us into a much better place. It helped us see ourselves not just as Nigerians. One thing about Nigerians is that we compare ourselves and status by what is going on in Nigeria. But Covid pushed us to compare ourselves on a global stage, and so having exposed us to the world and exposed the world to us, there is no going back.
In education, we were teaching classes online on account of the COVID restrictions. Now, though we are back in physical school, every child is with their laptop. Assignments are done on the laptop. I tell parents when they complain about their children staying on the computer, that the key thing they have to learn from that computer is their typing speed because tomorrow that is how they are going to take their notes. Nobody writes long notes anymore and this is a good reality check for Nigerians.
Now having said that, there is the expense of pivoting into digital learning and there is even a greater expense that has to be made and that is in upskilling.
On The Platform, they asked me at the end of my speech, ‘we don’t have computers, projectors, how will we do this online learning.’ I said to them even my school has not yet attained to where it is supposed to be in digital learning. But the first thing beyond learning how to use the computer or projector is to identify what courses you are going to teach online. Because the teachers who are going to teach these subjects have to be taught. And many of them don’t know how to put on the computer. So, it is an investment.’
According to her, with proper management of the fallouts of the pandemic and the new and renewed focus on the digital space, the benefits could indeed be enormous.
‘Now during the World Economic Forum in 2019, there was this session on the future of work. And I recall a speaker saying that in sub-Saharan Africa there is going to be a loss of 55,000 jobs, but that the good news is that there will be replaced by 104,000 new jobs.
The question is how are we going to upskill the people to enter into these new jobs, because they are technology-related. We have the population, but the people that have the technology do not have the numbers. Africa has the population and does not have the knowledge. So, the world understands that they have to focus on Africa.
In fact, it is being said that in the next decade, Africa will be home to the headquarters of many global organizations. Now if that is going to happen, we have to have the local skills to take those jobs. So that got me thinking about this upscaling and upskilling. The cost of doing that is the problem. Africa/Nigeria does not have the resources for it now. The cost of building and equipping a school and training the teachers for just one school is massive. If we look at the budget of education in our country, basically what it does right now is that it pays salaries; there is no money for resources, maintenance, even sending teachers for programmes to improve themselves. And because of that, many teachers don’t even know that they have inadequacies in their learning.
When we are talking of the digital era, if we don’t solve the human resource part of it then the other problem will not even go away. One of the things we are focusing on is the redevelopment of teachers, and it is only after we have gotten the trainers to our own side that we can now say let us start training the children. It is a somewhat long process but the truth is that it cannot be denied anymore; the Nigerian educational system is broken.’
Reflecting over how all of this connects with the practical world of work, Adeyinka-Oni called for a more robust and out of the box approach to addressing the issues:
‘On the issue of the gulf in the sector and how we are to bridge it, our first note is that it wasn’t always this wide. That said, we have to fix the trainers and fix the gap between the private and the public. One of the things we see now is that for beneficiaries of high-end private school education, many of them go away for more schooling and then stay abroad. Back at home, you have those who endure a lot of our broken systems which give very little value and it is these same children that some people are now calling hoodlums. I don’t call them hoodlums, because at the end of the day if we failed to do something and we see the result of our own work, we should not now say that because we failed, they failed too. No, we must try educating them properly.
Why do we have so many hackers in Nigeria? Because they have gone to the dark side of the internet. Why not give them amnesty and say that this your skill, let us put you in a programme, take a job. They are brilliant, the fact that they can do the things they do shows that they are intelligent. But though many of them can do these things but they are not really able to read and write to pass and go on to the university because they were never really properly taught. But because they are smart, they are watching someone do it, and modelling the things they need to do and they do trial and error and they get it. So, they learnt on the job.
It is the same problem somewhat with Boko Haram. Half of those who are doing these things don’t know that Saudi Arabia is like the city of gold where everything is so clean and fine, and Western education is thriving there. But here they are being conditioned to believe that western education is bad because they do not want their eyes opened. At the end of the day it is a lack of knowledge.’
Asked to put a handle on what she considers to be about the most significant challenge facing the nation, she was not hesitant: illiteracy.
‘If I was in government and looking at what is going on, I think anybody will know that illiteracy is the problem. Whichever way we can do it, let us go back to the basics. When the white man came to Nigeria and brought education, how did they teach us their language that became our lingua franca. They taught it, they encouraged us to speak it. We saw it as something that was new, novel, and there were incentives for coming to school.
We need to look at some of the things that they did. Yes, some of the things that they did got to influence us but the truth of the matter is that Nigeria is influencing the whole world now because they are dancing to Burna Boy now, they are giving him a Grammy award. We have things that we are exporting that are good.
Look at Nigerians abroad, how many of them are in Biden’s administration. We are doing good things, but must our children have that mindset that except they escape from Nigeria, they cannot be better? Many of these people who are now in the oppressive state of mind went abroad and got western education themselves. Literacy is what is going to set the minds of each person free. Nigeria is in this state because we have too many illiterates who cannot think for themselves and all they do is listen to that mob voice, ‘they say we should do this and we will do it.’ They cannot stop to reason if that is good or not.
Maslow’s hierarchy of need places food and shelter at the base of the pyramid. Most of Nigeria is still wallowing in that place. If we don’t do things about food and shelter by giving them the opportunity to earn, give incentives to people to learn to read and speak properly, and then empower them, we would still have issues.
Did you see a recent video of ewedu being sold in Walmart? If we don’t start farming it for exports, the Chinese and Malaysians will overtake us. Just like the way Malaysia took our oil palm. We need to go into mechanized farming, we need to upscale everything. So, farmers own everything, but we should have arrangements where farmers harvest their crops, you do quality control, and everybody knows that from your farm, whatever you harvest this company is buying it. It is a fixed price.
What does this do for them? They can look after their children, they can improve their lives, they can send their children to school and at the same time they are working to ensure that the products get better and better, and they have a market and that market begins to export. We have to make them equitable people of society by giving them a better life.
Can you see how many people are homeless in Lagos? We have to make them understand that people need to stop coming to Lagos, there is nothing in Lagos. Let them stay in their villages. There was a time when the community will find one smart child, put money together, and send that child to school. We need to go back to that. Communities need to get involved in the process of education. Leaders of the community are encouraging all the children to go to school, and in going to school they are putting incentives in front of them to keep going.’
Admitting that some of the solution definitely lies outside the doorsteps of professionals and practicioners in the education arena, no matter how well-meaning they may be, Adeyinka-Oni adjures her fellow citizens to note that it is indeed most important that the nation comes to grips with the imperative of fixing its political space.
‘It is a problem because we elected the wrong leader and we keep getting them there because they come every election year with their garri and their 500 naira and hungry people think this is our time to take from the purse. Immediately they get that mandate, they are gone for four years, and in that period, they don’t see a need to do anything.
Parties are too expensive on the front end, and it is too expensive on the back end when they get into office because they feel that they have come to recoup the money that they spent in the process. So, it is winner takes all kind of mentality. That is not politics,’ she lamented.